Time Travel

If I Could Turn Back Time

            Few authors know where to expect inspiration, but that’s  part of the excitement. So is venturing into unknown territory. Despite being a fan of H. G. Wells’ The Time Machine and Jack Finney’s Time and Again, I never considered writing time travel because the market is glutted with poorly written and plotted stories about star-crossed lovers. Such books have, to quote Dorothy Parker, all “the depth and glitter of a worn dime.”

            Reluctance evaporated my last year of living in the French Quarter, 2003, when I went onto my gallery one warm March evening to enjoy a glass of wine. Fog began rolling off the Mississippi River and thickened until I could barely see across the street. While fog inhibits sight, it can magnify sounds and smells. I grew acutely aware of muffled voices, the lonely drone of riverboat horns, cathedral bells and the clip-clop of mule-drawn carriages. As I inhaled the rich odor of the Mississippi, I realized that everything I saw, smelled and heard came from the mid-nineteenth century, including the 1833 Creole townhouse where I lived. While I was processing that revelation, voices below drew me to lean over the iron railing to see a quartet in hooded black robes. They were probably headed for a Mardi Gras ball, but for a moment they played tricks with my sensibilities. Viewed through the swirling fog, they could’ve been noblemen or vampires, nightmares or dreams. I admit being beguiled by a moment lost in time that was as unsettling as it was unforgettable.

That fragile, intoxicating reverie reminded me that no American city claims a more omnipresent past than New Orleans, especially the old French Quarter. Its ancient ambiance was potent enough to mess with my mind, just as its exotic history was ideal for conjuring spirits of the past and evoking intense nostalgia. The town’s fabled cemeteries, called “cities of the dead,” prematurely ravaged by unforgiving heat and subtropical rains, are especially evocative. Caught after a summer storm, they steam and shimmer like living things. This is as it should be. Antebellum New Orleans was, after all, a realm apart, a uniquely ethnocentric jambalaya of white slaves, black masters, courtesans of color and a caste system that seems like fantasy today. Unable to resist such realities, I got to work and whisked my New Orleans heroine, Madeleine St. Jacques, back to 1861 on the eve of the Civil War. The result was Still Time.

I so enjoyed Madeleine’s adventures, I deployed her two more times. In Past Time, she visited 1914 Tsarist Russia where, as the guest of the Grand Duchess Marie Pavlovna, she meets a host of duplicitous Romanovs. In 2017, Out of Time catapulted Madeleine back to Haiti in 1820 and the opulent European-style court of  black King Henry I, a fantasy world of madness teetering on the brink of cataclysm. All aboard!

Past Time 
Out of Time by Michael Llewellyn